How Your Limiting Beliefs Affect Your Learning Ability


Your limiting beliefs can impact your whole life!

Even though I’ve been training people for years, it still shocks me that limiting beliefs about learning are still prevalent.

A few years ago, I spent two hours facilitating a pre-training training! Yes, you read that right — I ran a pre-course training course!

Here’s the scenario:

I was training a group of guys in the electrical industry, an industry I’d worked in for over eleven years. I know the impact limiting beliefs have on a person’s ability to learn. Most of this group had left school at around the age of 14 or 15, with no qualifications. They’d experienced an unhappy school education filled with negativity, struggle, and anxiety.

As a result, they’d decided that learning wasn’t for them. I know that’s a big leap of thought — and I’m not saying they made that deliberate decision. I’m sure you understand how early experiences set the tone for our later life.

“My education was interrupted only by my schooling.” – Winston Churchill

These men were very bright

They had many practical and creative problem-solving abilities with a healthy Kiwi ‘number 8 wire mentality’. They could fix just about anything. And all of them, despite their traumatic schooling, had gained qualifications in their chosen field.

However, their limiting beliefs about their learning ability persisted

This meant that in any classroom-type situation, they became so stressed as to be almost incapable of learning anything. So I knew I needed to challenge and then dismantle these guys’ limiting beliefs about learning.

We have drilled the importance of academic learning into children

Adults often ask kids about school because they think doing well in school is important for success in life and work.

It’s an outdated belief. You just need to look and see how many people who might have struggled at school have still achieved amazing success in all aspects of their lives.

“Creativity is now as important in education as literacy.” Sir Ken Robinson

Children being creative using the black sand in Raglan, New Zealand

Children being creative using the black sand in Raglan, New Zealand

People put too much pressure on themselves in a learning environment

This creates more stress and makes learning harder. Adults, who may have had difficulty with their studies, are often anxious before training even starts. They sit at tables with a teacher in front and anchor into the difficult feelings they had while struggling in school.

I even had one nervous trainee turn up about 30 minutes before this pre-course training was about to start. He was extremely anxious and came to ask me, “Will I have to stand up in front of the class and read out loud?”

I almost cried.

Stressed is a dreadful state in which to learn

They experience a range of thoughts and feelings (I know because I’ve asked them!) resulting in very limiting beliefs which hinder learning. Here’s a sampling:

  • Intense pressure: To do well, to learn everything properly.
  • Inferiority: That others will learn the material instantaneously, while they’ll struggle and feel foolish. Thoughts like, “I’m not as smart as everyone else” or “I’ll never catch up” can be common.
  • Frustration: With themselves, their teachers, or the learning process. They might think, “Why is this so hard for me?” or “I should be able to understand this.”
  • Low Self-Esteem: Repeated struggles with learning can erode self-esteem. People might think, “I’m not good at anything” or “I’m a failure.”
  • Anxiety: Learning difficulties can cause anxiety, especially in academic settings. Thoughts like, “I’m going to fail this test” or “What if I embarrass myself in front of others?” can contribute to this anxiety.
  • Avoidance: Some individuals may develop a pattern of avoidance when faced with learning challenges. They might think, “I’ll just skip this assignment” or “I don’t want to try because I’ll just fail.”

Some learn despite these adverse thoughts and feelings

Ironically, these thoughts, feelings and challenges can drive some folks to become more determined and resilient. Like a dog with a bone, they think, “I won’t give up” or “I’ll keep trying until I get it.” So they slog away and work really hard to gain new skills and understandings, without realising how much easier learning would be if they could relax.

Beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies

Our beliefs (about anything) affect how we perceive the world; if you believe it’s difficult to learn, you’ll search for the indicators that prove it. People who have struggled with traditional learning methods believe learning is hard — and they have ample evidence to support their belief. So, you can understand that I needed to dispel some very limiting beliefs the men had about learning; to open up their minds to learning easily, and feel relaxed doing so.

Examples of limiting beliefs about learning

On a flip chart, I put up a lot of sayings about learning that I’d heard these, and other guys say:-

  • You can’t teach an old dog new tricks
  • Learning is serious
  • I didn’t learn very well in school, so I can’t learn now
  • Learning is hard work
  • I’m not smart enough
  • I’m wasting my time
  • This is pointless
  • I’ll never get it
  • Why bother? I can’t change

Child looking fed up of studying

  • Learning is not my thing
  • My father wasn’t very clever, and I take after him
  • I can’t do it perfectly — so why bother?
  • It’s harder to learn as you get older
  • I’ll get punished if I make a mistake (so better not to try)
  • I struggle to learn new things
  • Other people are much smarter than me
  • You’ll never earn good money if you don’t do well at school.

I asked the group to identify which statements they believed. With one or two exceptions, the entire group believed all of them!

Yet, an hour and a half later, they had totally changed their minds.


I showed them that each of those statements is false, by reframing their understanding of learning and examining their own life experiences. After all, if a person has negative beliefs about their ability to learn, such as ‘learning is hard’, then they will find learning hard.

For several years, academic learning was most valued in school and reflected your intelligence level (IQ). If you were good at maths, English, science etc., academia deemed you a good student. Other skills, such as woodwork, art, cooking, sports, music etc., were considered an adjunct to the three ‘R’s. (Whoever dreamt up the idea of The ‘Three R’s of ‘Reading wRiting and aRithmetic’ was obviously not very considerate of people’s ability to spell!)

I spent most of the remaining time teaching them about the other intelligences

These men had bucket loads of kinaesthetic, musical, and bodily/kinaesthetic intelligence. See Harnessing Your Inner Genius: A Guide To Intelligence And Learning Styles so you can check how many types of intelligence you possess.

It’s part of human nature to grow and develop. And that means learning new stuff. Many things you learn without even trying; like learning the words of a song you’ve heard on the radio or a jingle on TV. You don’t deliberately set out to learn the words, but after a few repetitions, you’ll be singing along like one of the band! The learning was so easy you didn’t even notice you’d learned.

These men’s schooling involved sitting in a classroom where the teacher used ‘Talk and Chalk’ to teach. This works for some people, but is not optimal for everyone.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.” Benjamin Franklin

Let me remind you of some of the other ways you learn:

  • Being shown
  • Reading about something
  • Making associations between what you’re learning and what you already know
  • Playing

Child playing with sand

  • Relaxing
  • Listening and discussion
  • Doing something physically
  • Copying – doing what you’ve seen others do or behaving as you’ve seen others behave
  • Questioning
  • Reflection
  • Practice or repetition
  • Making mistakes
  • Getting feedback

I incorporate multiple learning methods in my training courses to enhance learning and make it more enjoyable and fun. I don’t have tables for people to sit behind. In fact, I do everything I can to make the room inviting and unlike a classroom.

Have you experienced learning difficulties?

If so, you may also have limiting beliefs similar to those mentioned earlier. I hope you’ll take heart from the information in this post. Understand that you can easily overcome any learning problems by examining ways you’ve learned something easily and …

Do more of THAT type of learning — and relax.

Please share if you enjoyed this post

If you found this post valuable, I’d love you to share it on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, or your platform of choice. 🙂 Just use the social sharing buttons below!

Got a comment?

Please post it below.

Tags: Beliefs and values, Learning and memory, Self-confidence and self-esteem


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *